Unusual organization partnerships aim to reform healthcare

March 1, 2007

Wal-Mart and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) have formed what industry watchers have called an "unusual" partnership to push for quality, affordable healthcare.

"These organizations have been at each others' throats for several years, with the SEIU [helping to] fund Wal-Mart Watch, a two-year-old organization founded to 'challenge the world's largest retailer-Wal-Mart-to become a better employer, neighbor and corporate citizen.' Their relationship has been acrimonious at times, worse at others," according to Joseph Paduda, principal of Health Strategy Associates.

"This is an indication that America is ready for fundamental change. We need fundamental change, meaning new thinking, leadership and new partnerships; some risk taking and compromising," SEIU Spokeswoman Sara Howard says. "That is why SEIU is joining together with several major corporations-some of whom we don't always agree with and some of whom we have been critical. But that is exactly why this partnership of unlikely allies offers even greater hope that we can finally stop talking about healthcare and do something about it. SEIU can disagree with corporations, or anyone, and still work with them on issues that are important enough that they rise above those differences. We do this with elected leaders all the time."

According to Howard, this is part of a continuing effort by SEIU to be a catalyst for change by bringing different organizations and groups together to fix healthcare.

Last summer, SEIU President Andy Stern sent a letter to the heads of every Fortune 500 company in America, asking them to join this effort, she explains. "Recently, SEIU formed a partnership on healthcare with the Business Roundtable and AARP, and we are also working to build new partnerships with healthcare providers," she says.

Wal-Mart is trying to be part of the solution, according to Paduda.

"The company's leaders have recognized the political realities, and decided that working toward a solution is far better than having one forced on the company. The SEIU has not compromised its position, rather Wal-Mart has met the Union on its own terms," he says.

"Better Health Care Together" mobilizes leaders from business, labor and politics, as well as individuals. "Together, we have pledged to recruit additional partners, seek support from lawmakers and launch innovative public education campaigns to rally customers and workers alike," Howard says.

The principles created and advanced by the union and employer are two-fold: shared responsibility for funding and universal access, according to Paduda.

"These are consistent with all the plans presently on the table," he says. "Rather than leading the charge, the joint announcement instead provides strong support for a major change in the U.S. healthcare system as well as political cover and support for politicians advocating wholesale reform."

The coalition released a set of shared principles to guide the overhaul of the healthcare system: